Part 6. Conflict between the church and the powers of evil (12:1—14:20)
6.6. The redeemed and the Lamb on Mt. Zion (14:1-5)
6.7. INTERLUDE 3: visions of final judgment (14:6-20)
6.7.1. Impending judgment announced (14:6-13)
6.7.2. Harvest of the earth (14:14-20)
† PICTURE: John has a brief glimpse of the dawn of eternity after the tribulation when Christ and the believers celebrate in heaven. Then quickly his vision returns to the tribulation on earth. Three angels announce in midair that God’s wrathful judgment is imminent. God’s judgment is executed by Christ and an angel in a harvest showing a scene of the annihilation of defeated enemies.
14:1 This is one of the glimpses of final blessedness in the book. It is the bright morning of eternity when the Lamb and His followers celebrate on the heavenly Mount Zion. The 144,000 are those who bear the names of the Lamb and God on their foreheads. This is not the mount on earth as God’s throne was there (v.3). It is the Jerusalem in heaven. This 144,000 may or may not be the same as the group in ch.7. Nevertheless, both groups may actually represent all the redeemed throughout history. In the ancient world, the names in their foreheads represent 5 things: ownership of God, loyalty to God, security given by God, dependence on God, and safety in God.
14:2 John heard a very loud new song sung by the redeemed. It sounds like:  the roar of rushing waters,  a loud peal of thunder,  the swelling refrain of an ensemble of harpists.
14:3 The sound is actually a chorus of many voices singing a new song of deliverance. That they have been redeemed from the earth does not mean that they were removed bodily from the persecutions on earth but that they were separated from the evil ways of the world.
14:4 The group is described with 3 figures which emphasize fidelity, discipleship, dedication.
 Fidelity: They are virgins who have not defiled themselves with women. This description represents a major difficulty for commentators because of its apparent negative connotation about sexual relationship which is not a Biblical viewpoint. The solutions of the problem include: [a] This group attained the utmost in spirituality by renouncing marriage with its detracting sexual relationships. It is true that the early church came to exalt celibacy because Jesus had spoken with an approval of eunuchs (Mt 19:12) and Paul wished that all people possessed the gift of not marrying so as to serve without hindrance by marital relationships (1Co 7:1,32). [b] This group have kept themselves from adultery and fornication. They are virgins in the sense of having never entered into immoral sexual relations. [c] OT often describes Israel as a virgin (2Ki 19:21; Lam 2:13; Jer 18:13; Am 5:2). In the NT, the church is also described as a virgin (2Co 11:2). As part of the church, these people have kept themselves pure from all defiling relationships with the pagan world system. They have resisted the seductions of the great harlot (17:2).
 Discipleship: They are followers of the Lamb. They do not physically follow the historical person Jesus but they follow His life and instructions (Mk 8:34). Many may have in fact followed Him to death.
 Dedication: They are the firstfruits purchased from among men. “Firstfruits” signify an offering to God. By the offering of their lives, they were set free from human entanglements to belong solely to Him.
14:5 While the pagan world “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (Ro 1:25), these people hold fast to God’s truth and make no compromise with the heretical claims of the antichrist and are thus described as speaking no lies (Zep 3:13). They are also ethically blameless and so make themselves as an acceptable sacrifice to God (1Pe 1:19).
14:6 Three angels appear flying in midair announce the judgment of God. The messages are interrelated and progressive. The first angel’s message is called “the eternal gospel”. It is not the gospel of God’s redeeming grace in Christ but, as the following verse shows, a summons to fear, honour, and worship the Creator. It announces the eternal purpose of God for human beings.
14:7 He speaks in a loud voice so that everyone can hear. It is the last call for civilization to repent and give God glory. To fear God is to reverence Him; to give Him glory is to pay Him the respect and honour which He deserves. God has revealed Himself in nature so that people are without excuse (Ro 1:19-20).
14:8 A second angel (apparently also flying in midair) announces the fall of the Great Babylon (Isa 21:9). John introduces this symbolic reference without explanation, perhaps he thinks that the readers would understand the allusion. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon had become the political and religious capital of a world empire. It was famous for its luxury and moral corruption. Above all, it was a great enemy of God’s people. It is a symbol of the spirit of godlessness that in every age lures people away from the worship of the Creator. It is the final manifestation of secular humanism. For the early church, the city of Rome was a contemporary Babylon. Its fall will be described in ch.17 and ch.18.
The wine is described as “maddening”. The basic meaning of the Greek word is “passion”. It could mean:  “the wine of her passionate immorality” or  the wrath in the judgment of God. Possibly, it contains both meanings.
14:9 A third angel now announces to the whole world the aweful punishment waiting for those who worship the beast and bear his mark.
14:10 They are to drink the wine of God’s fury and endure eternal torment in burning sulphur. This fierce warning is directed both to the pagan world and to those within the Christian community tempted to deny their faith in view of the coming persecution. It is to remind everyone that their decision will have eternal consequences.
God’s fury will be in full strength, untempered by the mercy and grace of God. Some describe it as the “white heat of God’s anger.” The burning of sulphur describes its intense heat and the unpleasant smell.
14:11 The punishment is not a temporary measure but for eternity. There is no hope of acquittal.
14:12 This verse is a comment by John who calls for patient endurance. The price of apostasy is eternal torment. It is far greater than the temporary suffering they may face as faithful believers. The saints are characterized by their obedience to divine revelation and their continuing reliance on Jesus.
14:13 The faithful may suffer martyrdom but their death brings them victoriously into their final rest.
The proclamation from heaven carries divine authority. The command to write emphasizes the importance of the message. This beautitude is the second of 7 in this book (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14).
The phrase “from now on” may mean that those who die in the Lord from that time on are blessed. But this may then imply that this group is more blessed than the faithful who have died previously. Therefore some think that this phrase should in fact be connected with the next phrase; meaning that the Holy Spirit says, “From now on they may rest from their labours.” Another explanation is that the phrase is not associated with the blessing but rather with the dying in the Lord, meaning the more active persecution of the saints will be more fierce from that point on.
14:14 After the announcements by the 3 angels, the execution of divine judgment is described in the figures of a grain harvest (vv.14-16) and of the treading of a winepress (vv.17-20).
Christ, the Son of man, appears on a cloud (Dan 7:13-14). The golden crown (referring to a wreath in ancient times) designates the Messiah as one who has conquered and thereby won the right to act in judgment. The sharp sickle is the instrument of harvest and will be used in the harvest of the earth in an act of righteous retribution.
14:15 An angel delivers the divine command to commence the harvest. Some understand the harvest as the gathering of the righteous at the return of Christ and interpret the next section (vv.17-20) as the judgment of the wicked. It is true that some NT passages use harvest as the figure for the gathering of believers into the kingdom of God (Mt 9:37-38; Mk 4:29; Lk 10:2; Jn 4:35-38). However, the gathering of the wicked for burning also appears in the parable of the Wheat and Tares (Mt 13:30,40-42). In the OT, the harvest was a regular symbol of divine judgment (Jer 51:33; Hos 6:11). Here, it is more likely about divine judgment.
14:16 The earth was harvested by Christ. The fact of his sitting (not a normal posture for harvesting) may indicate the act as one of judgment.
14:17 An angel now appears also with a sharp sickle. In ancient times, the sickle is with a curved blade used both for cutting grain and for pruning and cutting clusters from the vine.
14:18 Another angel who comes from the altar commands the previous angel to start the harvest. His origin from the altar may imply that the prayers of the faithful play a definite part in bringing about God’s judgment. The “fire” probably refers to the censer with fire which the angels held in 8:3-5.
14:19 Without delay, the angel now swings his sickle on the earth and gathers its vintage. It is then thrown into the great winepress of the wrath of God. In ancient times, grapes were trampled by foot in a trough that had a duct leading to a lower basin where the juice collected. The treading of grapes was used as a figure for the execution of divine wrath upon the enemies of God in Isa 63:3. The vintage of the earth is a symbol for all who by their obstinate refusal to embrace righteousness have made themselves the enemies of God. They are also the ones who persecuted the saints during this period of tribulation.
14:20 The city is probably Jerusalem. The judgment of the nations in Joel 3:12-14 (which supplies the dual figures of harvest and vintage) takes place in the valley of Jehoshaphat, which tradition links with the Kidron valley lying between the city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Zec 14:1-4 also places the final battle on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
As a winepress yields the red juice of the grape, so the judgment of God issues in a blood bath that flows as high as the bridles of the horses (a height of 1.5 metres) and extends the approximate length of Palestine (1600 stadia are equivalent of almost 300 km).
† Rev 14:13 says “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord...they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.” While the statement in that chapter refers to the persecuted saints, it can be applied in a general sense to all faithful Christians who died. For the pagan world, death (the end of this earthly life) is a curse. But for those who die in the Lord, death is indeed a blessing because it is a rest from countless difficulties in this world, such as the deteriorating health, daily worries about family and work, heartache from broken relationships, etc. Moreover, it is an eternal rest and the starting point of a better new life. Yet the verse is also a reminder that their deeds in this world will be remembered by God. While all we possess in this life (money, power, fame) will in a moment disappear, the deeds of service to God will remain and wil follow us to eternity.